Race and Ethnicity in America: A Concise History

By Ronald H. Bayor | Go to book overview

1
ETHNICITY IN
SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY
ENGLISH AMERICA, 1600–1700

Carol Berkin

The English colonies of the seventeenth century were notable for their diversity of population, religious institutions, and government structures, a diversity arising in large part from the variety of purposes and methods that spurred their creation. Unlike the Spanish and French governments, the English Crown steadfastly refused to finance colonization, relying instead on private citizens to take the risks involved in establishing outposts in the Americas. The Crown was willing to grant charters to companies and bestow huge tracts of land on favorites in the Court, but it was not willing to deplete the royal treasury or provide military support for colonization. Few private citizens rose to the challenge in the sixteenth century, for the dismal failure of Sir Walter Raleigh's efforts at Roanoke Island, and Raleigh's resulting bankruptcy dampened even the most patriotic zeal.

Dreams of an American empire did not entirely vanish, however. Indeed, they were enthusiastically revived in the early seventeenth century as English entrepreneurs learned to employ the principles of the joint-stock company to diminish individual risks. The Virginia Company's success in planting the Jamestown settlement in 1607, coupled with the Stuart kings' largesse in land grants, resulted in the creation of proprietary colonies, such as Maryland, Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and colonies chartered to joint-stock companies, such as Massachusetts. But what the Crown saved in expenses it lost in the ability to establish uniformity. Each proprietor or joint-stock company could declare its own purposes and goals and establish its own institutions and regulations as long as they did not run contrary to the laws, trade regulations, and diplomatic policies of England. By the end of the century, the crescent of colonies that hugged the Atlantic Ocean on the North American mainland reflected the

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